Panoramas, Patriotic Voyeurism, and the “Indian Mutiny”

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Abstract

The panorama was from its outset a medium of contemporary history. This article examines its contribution to initial historical narratives about the “Indian Mutiny” (1857–58). Nineteenth-century critics often saw the form as voyeuristic, while modern scholars have critiqued its chauvinistic patriotism. The article uses panorama paratexts, adverts, and reviews to recover the visitor experience and to compare these with contemporary would-be historical accounts of the mutiny. I ask, Was it possible for panoramic representations of the mutiny to avoid jingoism? And what can this case study tell us about mid-nineteenth-century approaches to historical distance?

My analysis of 1850s panoramas of the mutiny (by Burford, Hamilton, Marshall, and Gompertz) shows that when they depicted graphic violence, it did not suppress visitor numbers but did lead to accusations of voyeurism. Reviewers declared that the events were too temporally and emotionally proximate to be treated as history. Initial contemporary histories nonetheless borrowed from panoramic modes in their illustrations of the mutiny, making panoramas a means of mediating events into historical form. By the 1870s, concerns about voyeurism diminished but chauvinistic representation continued, as the episode ossified into a cultural myth. Chronological distance did not lead to greater openness but to more unquestioning jingoism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalVictorian Literature and Culture
Volume50
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2022

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